Spring training is approaching its end, and the regular season is almost upon us. There have been many surprises for each team this offseason and during spring training that should make people excited to see how everything plays out. The National League is full of teams that have varying approaches to this season, but they all have something that a fan can be excited about.
Infielder Javier Baez is one of the most exciting players in all of baseball. In the field, he is one of the best defensive shortstops. He makes plays that almost no one can make. His hitting is a different story. For most of his career, he either absolutely crushes the ball or he strikes out. Last year, he basically only struck out. The good news is that his defense continues to be elite. This means that if he figures out how to hit again, then he may return to being one of the best all-around players in baseball. If he doesn’t figure it out, he’s still an incredible fielder.
First baseman Joey Votto may be returning to his former self. Votto was one of the best players in all of baseball for the 2010s as he was a very patient and consistent hitter that very frequently got on base. However, within the last two years, he has shown a decrease in all major stats. This is likely attributed to his age. Yet, as he enters his age 37 season, he looks to turn it around. According to Cincinnati.com, Votto is trying to be more aggressive at the plate this year and hit for more power. He only had a few at bats in the spring before running into illness-related problems, but in those few at bats, he hit 0.444. The Reds have a lot of offensive firepower, and if Votto is returning to his MVP form, they may have a chance to contend again.
Between 2017 and 2019, outfielder Christian Yelich was one of the best players in baseball. He hit for a high average, and he hit for power. In 2018, he won the MVP award. At the end of the 2019 season, Yelich suffered a knee injury that kept him out for the last month of the season. Unfortunately, it appeared as if that injury continued to make an impact in 2020 as Yelich struggled throughout the season. According to Baseball Reference, Yelich had a 164 OPS+ in 2018, 179 OPS+ in 2019 and a 111 OPS+ in 2020. A 100 OPS+ is average, so Yelich was 64 percent better than the average hitter in 2018 and 79 percent better than the average hitter in 2019. Yet, in 2020, he was only 11 percent better. He was still a decent player, but it was bad for his standards. It is highly unlikely that Yelich is going to have another bad season, and now that he has had another offseason to recover, he is likely going to return to his former MVP self. He currently has a 0.444 batting average in spring training, so there may be some indication that he is making his return. Don’t worry, Brewers fans, Yelich is going to bounce back this season.
The Pirates are in a strange situation because a few years ago, they were playoff contenders, but now they appear to be looking at a rebuild. They traded away first baseman Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals in the offseason and starting pitcher Jamison Tallion to the Yankees. However, do not lose hope, Pirates fans, it appears as if you have a star in the making. Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes looks like he is going to be a superstar. According to Baseball Reference, Hayes hit 0.376 and actually finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year race last year while only playing in 24 games. He is also hitting 0.432 in spring training so far. Hayes looks like he is the future face of the franchise and is going to be someone every team should watch out for moving forward.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals upgraded their corner infield this offseason with a new third baseman. However, this isn’t just any third baseman; this is Nolan Arenado. Arenado is possibly the best all-around third baseman in all of baseball. The rest of the team is fairly similar and more average in skill, but now they just happened to get the best third baseman in the league. He is going to be a game changer in the field and at the plate. After many years of making the playoffs and coming short of the World Series, Arenado may finally be what they needed to push the Cardinals to a title.
The Braves rotation looks a lot stronger than it did last year and that may help them finally make it to the World Series. Last year, starting pitcher Max Fried had a breakout season. Rookie starting pitcher Ian Anderson was solid, but beyond him and Fried, the rotation struggled. That is no longer the case this season. The Braves added former All-Star starting pitcher Charlie Morton and starting pitcher Drew Smyly. Additionally, starting pitcher Mike Soroka should be back from injury at some point this season. So, if the Braves can maintain their elite offense, their starting pitching should be strong enough to compete with any team, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.
For Marlins fans, the rebuild may be moving along much faster than expected. To many people’s surprise, last year the Marlins made the playoffs when they were projected to be the worst team in the National League East. One of the players that made a big impact on that team was rookie starting pitcher Sixto Sanchez. Sanchez looked solid in his first season. His fastball was electric and, according to Baseball Reference, allowed him to give up only 15 runs in 39 innings. It is unlikely that the Marlins repeat that playoff magic similar to last year, but Sanchez is a bright spot that should be an ace in the near future.
New York Mets
According to NBC News, on Sep. 24, 2020, Steven Cohen purchased the Mets for $2.42 billion dollars. This marked the beginning of a new era for the Mets. During the offseason, the Mets were in contention for nearly every big-name free agent. Ultimately the Mets made one big splash when they traded for shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco. Lindor is one of the superstars of the game, and by trading for him, Cohen showed that he wasn’t afraid to make big moves and spend some money. Who knows what is in store for the Mets in the future? But it is safe to say that the Lindor move is likely going to be the first of many big deals under Cohen.
After winning the World Series in 2019, the Nationals struggled in the shortened season of 2020. Some of the struggles could be associated with the lack of offense in the Nationals lineup without third baseman Anthony Rendon. In this offseason, the Nationals traded for first baseman Josh Bell. The trade appeared to be a large gamble because Bell, for most of his career, had just been an average player. In 2019, Bell had an incredible first half to the season but quickly cooled down after that. The Nationals traded for him hoping that he could regain that form and be the big bat they needed following super star outfielder Juan Soto in the lineup. As of March 24, 2021, it appears as if this trade might end up being a bargain. In spring training, Bell is hitting 0.385 with five home runs in just 15 games. If Bell can keep this hot streak going into the regular season, the Nationals might be back into World Series contention.
Phillies fans, J.T. Realmuto is going nowhere. Before the offseason, it was clear that the Phillies wanted to keep catcher J.T. Realmuto considering he is often described to be the best catcher in the league. After many back and forth sources describing how the Phillies could not afford to keep Realmuto, ultimately the team found the money to do so. This back and forth may have scared Phillies fans, but the five-year deal made sure that he isn’t going anywhere for a while.
Last season for starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner was not good. After signing a massive deal with the Diamondbacks, he had a serious decline in pitch velocity, which resulted in a really bad year. According to Baseball Reference, he allowed 30 runs in just 41 innings. The good news is that in his first two starts of spring training, he allowed two runs in six innings. That isn’t necessarily good, but it is better than last season. His velocity is down, but it is possible that he has made adjustments based off of last season to figure out how to pitch at a high level without the velocity he used to have.
The Rockies did not have a good offseason. They traded third baseman Nolan Arenado for money reasons, but ultimately the Rockies are still paying $50 million dollars of his remaining contract. This is a good and bad sign for current Rockies star shortstop Trevor Story. The Rockies, in theory, can now pay Story, but as seen with Arenado, the Rockies clearly are not good with their money, so it is unlikely that they will get better. So, if Story wants to win, then he may want to go elsewhere. Rockies fans be ready for possibly the best season of Trevor Story yet because he controls his fate more than ever as he is a year from free agency. Maybe Story plays well enough to get the Rockies to the playoffs, but fans should at least be excited to see the best Trevor Story yet.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The World Series hangover probably won’t happen this year; most teams following a World Series title end up struggling the next year as the teams lose players, and players are still tired from the year before. Not only did the Dodgers not lose most of their main core, but they also signed top free agent pitcher Trevor Bauer. Bauer is exciting to watch on and off the field, and he should add a lot of fun to Dodgers games. Additionally, he is a really good pitcher, so he helps bolster the best team in baseball and could possibly help lead the team to back-to-back World Series titles.
San Diego Padres
For many years, the Padres have struggled to keep up with their California counterparts. In the last 10 years, the Giants have won three World Series titles, and the Dodgers have won one while winning the division almost every year. The Padres may finally be ready to truly compete with these teams. In the offseason, the Padres added starting pitchers Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. Both of these pitchers have won the Cy Young award and had solid seasons in the last few years. They lead a rotation that can now rival any starting pitcher rotations in baseball. The offense is led by superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and third baseman Manny Machado. With an incredible starting rotation and a few offensive superstars, it might be time for a new best California team.
San Francisco Giants
Infielders Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt may still have something left in the tank. According to MLB.com, last season Belt had a 0.309 batting average, which is the highest it has ever been in his career. Belt likely won’t have that high of an average this season, but it does show that his career may not be over yet. Additionally, MLB.com describes how Evan Longoria is currently batting 0.474 in spring training. Even though many MLB teams are leaning towards younger rosters, it is possible that these two veterans still may be able to make a large impact.